Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nothing to See Here

The blurring of the lines between the public and private persona of Mike Bloomberg is being revealed once again in the effort to uncover the truth about what happened to the $1,200,000 that the mayor funneled to a key campaign aide right before the last election. As the Wall Street Journal reports: “An assistant to Mayor Michael Bloomberg—who is on the city payroll, the mayor's private payroll and volunteered on his last campaign—is a key witness in a criminal investigation into what happened to $1.2 million that Mr. Bloomberg paid from his personal fortune to a state political party, people familiar with the matter said. Allison Jaffin, a City Hall aide whom Mr. Bloomberg pays extra out of his own pocket to plan his private events and coordinate them with his public functions, was directly involved in the decision to send the money to the Independence Party of New York, the people said. The party. which supported the mayor's 2009 re-election campaign, then funneled $750,000 of the money to a firm operated by John Haggerty, a Queens Republican operative who is now the target of a probe by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.”

We have already commented on the Haggerty affair-and Adam Lisberg’s reporting on the money trail: “Adam Lisberg continues his incisive reporting on the fate of the Bloombucks that got funneled off to a shady GOP operative-and then apparently disappeared: "By now, we all know how much Mayor Bloomberg spent to win office: $108 million last year, $85 million in 2005, $73 million in 2001. However, we still don't know where it all went. Prosecutors are asking what happened to $750,000 paid last year to a shell company run by Queens operative John Haggerty, six days before he bought a $1.6 million house. Haggerty was supposed to hire Election Day poll watchers, but can't account for as much as $400,000 of it. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has subpoenaed him to find out more."

But the role of Ms. Jaffin underscores the potential for abuse that derives from the ability of the city’s richest man to utilize his fortune in the pursuit of his own personal-as opposed to the public’s-goals. The WSJ captures this: “Ms. Jaffin's involvement with the payments—and the fact that the mayor is paying a government employee on the side with his own money—revive criticism of the blurred lines between Mr. Bloomberg's public and private lives. "This is actually part of the pattern—a complete blending of the private and the public for this mayor and his staff," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good-government group.”

The Bloombergistas defend their patron, of course: “Mr. Loeser said Mr. Bloomberg believes there is nothing unethical about his paying a government employee for private work, and, in fact, Mr. Bloomberg believes it is the right thing to do. Mr. Bloomberg, a multibillionaire, pays Ms. Jaffin, who earns $117,818 in her City Hall job, at time and a half over her government paycheck for the 20 to 30 hours per week he asks her to moonlight, according to city records. Mr. Loeser declined to specify how much she has earned privately from the mayor.”

And equally unsurprising is the ratification of all of this subornation of a public official by the Three Blind Mice COIB: “In 2006, the mayor sought and received a waiver from the city's Conflicts of Interest Board to pay Ms. Jaffin, who is 34 years old, from his personal funds. In the absence of a waiver, the City Charter prohibits an official from entering into a financial relationship with a subordinate. The waiver makes no mention of Ms. Jaffin having a role in the mayor's political and financial affairs. If she is doing that, it would be on her own time, mayoral aides said.”

All of which highlights how the mayor’s personal wealth-and his political uses of it-create unheard of ethical issues that most observers have difficulty in coming to grips with (the blindness of the COIB aside, since the board is a running joke when it comes to any real oversight of the mayor). But the kneejerk support from those lions of reform- former mayor Ed Koch and the hoary Henry Stern- does underscore why this Bloomberg blurring is so hard to really categorize.

As the WSJ points out: “Former Mayor Ed Koch, who served at City Hall from 1978 to 1989, chuckled when asked if he ever employed a government worker to perform personal duties for him. "I was not independently wealthy," he explained. Mr. Koch defended Mr. Bloomberg and the Conflicts of Interest Board. While the board "can make errors," Mr. Koch said, "I wouldn't second-guess" the panel's judgment. "He has every right to rely on their opinions," Mr. Koch said of Mr. Bloomberg. Henry Stern, a civic leader who is a former councilman and a former parks commissioner, said he believes Mr. Bloomberg is paying Ms. Jaffin "out of an abundance of caution. It passes the nose test of propriety," he said.”

Propriety is obviously in the eyes of these Stevie Wonder wannabees and Stern, for his part, couldn’t smell pigs in a pig pen: “Indeed, public officials in New York and around the country have found themselves in serious criminal trouble for asking government employees to perform personal work for them. In 2006, Alan Hevesi resigned as state comptroller and pleaded guilty to defrauding the government for using a state worker to chauffeur his ailing wife.”

So the mayor and his money rolls on-with the more egregious uses of it, to placate foes and induce political support for his legacy projects, still flying below the political radar. We encourage DA Vance to continue to examine under this Bloomberg rock-it offers a small glimpse of how democracy in this city is sacrificed on the the mayor’s golden calf altar.